Online Public Speaking

Training & Practice

How to Present to an Audience - Part 3 of 3


As far as volume is concerned: Make sure you’re speaking at the right volume for the room. You don’t want to speak too softly or too loudly. Pay attention to the room and adjust accordingly.

Non words

Finally, we want to point out the pitfalls of NON-WORDS. One of the biggest mistakes people make when speaking to an audience is using the sound, or non-word, UM.

We all hear this word on a daily basis. We all use it once in a while. But it doesn’t belong in a speech.

For one thing, it’s not actually a word. For another, it gets annoying to the audience to hear “Our product, um, has been made for, um, every type of customer. It’s, um, made in 4 sizes, small, medium, large, and, um, extra large.”

For another thing, it makes the speakers sound dopey when they keep saying it. It’s as though they don’t know what to say or lack confidence.

Why do we use this sound?  It’s usually either because we lack confidence, don’t know our subject matter well enough, are filling “dead air” to try to hold the audience’s attention while we’re searching for things to say, or are nervous.  It can also mean we are not making consistent eye-contact with the audience.  Making more eye contact can actually reduce the use of non-words!

We don’t want to make you self conscious or paranoid about this. Set your goal to avoid the use of “um” and other non-words. It will take a while, and it’s not the end of the world if a couple of, um, ah, non-words slip out. Being prepared for your presentation, building confidence, and consciously avoiding these sounds will help over time. You’ll eventually get good at it.

6) The Audience

There’s more to the audience that we need to discuss. By now, you’re up at the podium. You’re in a state of positive energy. You’re in command of your body language. You are giving your presentation smoothly, and all is well. You’re making eye contact. Everything should be perfect, but suddenly you realize the audience is not cooperating.

Three guys in the front row look like they’re going to fall asleep. Two women in the second row are texting – maybe each other. A guy in the third row looks positively hostile, and he’s glaring at you. A woman in the back row looks so tense that her weird energy is starting to affect you.

Is it your fault?  Maybe.  After all, you’re the one trying to earn their full attention or pull them into your state. But it’s not always easy to do this.  People have a million reasons for choosing not to pay attention.  Mostly, it’s the expectation that the presentation will be of little to no interest and not particularly entertaining, especially if that is their typical experience at work or school or wherever else they’re forced to listen to someone sell them, teach them or train them on something.

What do you do? Work harder! Out-psyche the tense woman in the back row  by being relaxed and positive. Make lots of eye contact with the three guys falling asleep in the front row to get them interested, or ask them a question, or make a reference to them to wake them up in a hurry. Maybe you stare down the hostile guy, or you ignore him—or your positive energy turns him around as you speak with even more emphasis and enthusiasm.  Try throwing in a spontaneous anecdotal story-- people like a good story, especially if it relates to their business.  And don’t forget that you’ve prepared a joke or two so that you can bring people back to your presentation by making them laugh.

If the audience doesn’t cooperate, keep looking for answers. Ask yourself what they want to hear. Read the audience. You may figure something out on the spot that will let you make adjustments to get a better result. If you find something that works, build on it.

No matter what, focus on your subject and believe in yourself. Not every audience is going to be receptive to every presentation, no matter how good. If you’re doing the best you can, then you’re doing the best you can.

If you’re passionate about your subject, if you’ve written a great presentation, if you are motivated and have a strong voice and confidence and conviction, the odds are excellent that you’ll engage your audience from the beginning and you won’t need to recapture their attention, but it pays to be prepared!

7) Focus

Focus is our next area or exploration. By now you’re talking, scanning the audience, and making adjustments if you need to. There’s a lot going on, and that can be when inexperienced public speakers lose focus.

Focus impacts almost every job, sport and activity in the world. Drive your car and lose focus--bang, you crash. Lose focus while making dinner--flames, smoke and dinner’s ruined.  Lose focus while talking to your boss—embarrassment, stress and maybe it’s time for a new job.

Public speaking is not much different. You have to maintain focus to do it effectively. Learning techniques to maintain focus is useful for all of us, and critical for many of us.

Rhythm, or routine, is a great way to keep focus. Everything you do consistently and deliberately, from writing your presentation, to using the same positive body language, to scanning the audience, to making eye contact, to consistently checking your outline during your presentation, needs to become your routine. The better and tighter your routine, the less likely you’ll be to lose focus.

Of course, you don’t want to become robotic. Spontaneity does have its place in public speaking. As you’re learning and becoming more and more comfortable, it’s important to build consistency and focus first. Consistency builds confidence; confidence enables focus; focus allows spontaneity to happen. 

8) Humor

As we discussed in detail in Writing a Presentation, using humor is an enormously important technique in effective public speaking. By now you will hopefully have written some humor into your presentation, as long as it’s relevant to your subject, your presentation, your style, and the situation. If you didn’t use humor in your written presentation, just remember that humor is a great way to relieve the tension for the audience and the speaker.

If you sense tension in the audience or yourself, and you think it might be appropriate, you might want to say something funny on the fly. You’re likely to have that extra energy on top of your normal levels to tap into. This will send extra positive energy to the audience, which may increase their response to your energy, including a good laugh. Few things build upon themselves like positive energy in a room, and few things unleash positive energy like humor and a good laugh.

But be careful. If you decide to try a spontaneous joke that you didn’t consider ahead of time, be sure it’s likely to work! For example, cracking a random joke about your boss’ drinking skills in front of her may backfire.

9) Role Playing

Some actors go so deeply into character that they start to believe they are the character.

As you prepare to speak in public, you might want to consider an odd sounding question:

How would you present to an audience if you were the person giving the presentation that you’d want to be seen as? Is there someone you can visualize delivering this presentation perfectly? 

Or more simply put, is there someone you would like to emulate when giving your presentation?

We don’t recommend trying to take on a whole new personality, especially if you aren’t a trained actor! It’s worth thinking about some general traits possessed by the personal you would like to emulate, whether it’s her movements, her tone, her use of humor and so on.

We also recommend considering how deeply you will go into your own subject, and preparing appropriate personal or non-personal anecdotes accordingly. If your presentation deals with a very emotional issue, it’s critical to determine ahead of time how far you will go – or allow yourself to go – in terms of personal history or disclosure.  If your presentation is about something inspirational to you, how much will you try to inspire others through your words, your tone, your energy, etc.?   

It will serve you well to establish your goals and limits ahead of time.  In public speaking, surprises are not good, and role-playing can help you be fully prepared to go in different directions if needed to make your point and take your audience to unexpected and interesting places.


This was a lot of material to cover and think about. We discussed whether you’d memorize your presentation, or read it, or come up with most things to say while you were saying them. We discussed body language, energy, tone, and how much intensity you’d use.  We talked about whether you’d use humor, role-playing and a whole lot more. It’s now time to move on to preparing for your presentation.

Before we go there, a few quick questions.

First, is there anything you changed while you were working in this section or would like to change about the way you wrote your presentation now that you learned about how to deliver it?

For example, if you decided that you want to use a lot of energy when you give a presentation, does that have any impact on the best words for that style?

With a focus on how you are going to communicate to your audience, re-read your words. Is there anything that you want to modify? We don’t want you to reinvent the wheel by any means. Just check to see if there is anything you might tweak now that you know HOW you’re going to present it.